Santa on a Cross!
Barely Concealed Racism!
I think that’s everything. Please let me know if I’ve missed any of the traditional expat tropes. It is frightfully difficult to keep track.
Made mincemeat from scratch this year as well, what with the import stores I’ve got it from in the past apparently deciding it’s not worth stocking any more. Will let you know how that goes as and when, but it did make the kitchen smell all christmassy, which is a large part of the reason for it in the first place.
I appear to care about this stuff now which, I don’t mind admitting, comes as something of a surprise. For what I can only take as a purely secular tradition, I’m finding that doing it ‘properly’ is getting more and more important. It’s not just the arrival of kids, either, though that’s undoubtedly a factor. My wife’s side of the family is fairly compact, numbers-wise, and so I find myself trying to make up for the christmases of my youth spent with a dozen or more cousins, aunts, and uncles. Or perhaps more accurately the christmases I remember from my youth: looking back with adult hindsight there were clearly any number of sherry-fuelled disagreements and tensions bubbling away alongside the tinsel and crackers. But you don’t know about that as a kid. There’s a tree, there are presents under it, and at dinner you get to eat as much as you like followed by cake and pudding after which Uncle Dave will fall asleep on the sofa and Auntie Janice will trip up repeatedly on perfectly flat floors and cry uncontrollably because she’s ‘in one of her moods’. Who wouldn’t want to hand down those traditions to the next generation?
Part of it is also undoubtedly absence making the heart grow fonder, an absence that is both geographical and temporal. Is it just me going in for all this introspection, or is it part of living in a place where you’ll always be something of an outsider? I guess a large part of growing up is realizing that adults don’t have all the answers, that your parents and all the other figures of authority you thought had all the answers were flying blind most of the time, getting by on a mixture of desperation, panic, and ill-conceived improvisation. Christmas always seemed like such a set thing: we would turn up at our grandparents’ house, eat, sleep, get presents, and go home again. It all just happened and it’s only as you get older that it becomes apparent how much it needed to be constructed as an event.
Again, that act of construction is probably more obvious because I’m in a place that isn’t really geared up for it (christmas, I mean. Japan is clearly more than capable of constructing its own arbitrary cultural touchstones). Everything needs to be sourced and made from scratch, whereas back home you can just pluck it all off the shelf. Thanks to the internet it’s definitely easier than when I first came to Japan, which wasn’t all that long ago to be honest but back then it was the Foreign Buyers Club or nothing, unless you had a friend who had access to a US military base.
At the risk of banging the same rather old and tired drum, I actually quite like that about the place. Christmas is no more inauthentic or artificial here than anywhere else you care to mention, it’s just more obviously so. That’s no bad thing, as far as I can see. Problematizing cultural norms is an important first step towards necessary change, however unwittingly it might be done. If the joins are showing then you can better see how it’s all put together, and when you start thinking about the ‘how’ you must inevitably consider the ‘why’, and once you’ve got that you can start to get at what’s really important.
Making marzipan is a legitimate route to enlightenment. I’m off to buy some almonds.